Return to the Silk Road with the Socceroos
Pablo Bateson is travelling the Silk Road with the Socceroos for their next World Cup qualifier again Tajikistan on Tuesday05 September 2015 | Pablo Bateson
I write this on Saturday afternoon on another long flight leg of the complex journey to Dushanbe, having had a short stopover in Bangkok. Below me are exhilarating views of high mountains in central Asia with snow capped peaks up to more than 6,000 metres, as well flying over the Himalayas and Tibet.
Choosing Air Astana is already proving to be a wise choice with exemplary service. An on-time departure is expected to be followed with an early arrival into Almaty, the largest city of Kazakhstan, for an overnight stopover.
In reflecting on Australia's game against Bangladesh, the performance of the Socceroos was no 'masterclass'. Yet the victory was convincing enough to raise few doubts about the national team's progression from this preliminary group stage.
On match day last Thursday our group of football comrades from Sydney enjoyed a delightful lunch at the ‘Sparrow’ restaurant in Highgate only five minutes from the NIB Stadium. This institution for locals provides authentic Indonesian cuisine at incredibly budget prices and unique hospitality from its eccentric expat owner.
The afternoon's pregame meet up for most active fans was at the ‘Elephant Wheelbarrow’ pub in nearby Northbridge, followed by a ritual march to the stadium.
Rejuvenation of home support has become a big priority for Socceroos Active Support (SAS) group led by the volunteer efforts of representatives from all mainland states. This means lifting the visual displays even higher, and better orchestrating the chants led by 'capos' and accompanied by drummers.
Expectations were high amongst most of the sell-out crowd of just under 20,000, with ideal pitch conditions and almost perfect mild, fine weather and light winds.
The Socceroos dominated from the onset and went into the break 4-0 up.
Slick passing using the full width of park constantly unlocked the hapless Bangladesh defence. The visitors rarely held possession and this pattern continued after half time.
A combination of bad luck, some valiant goalkeeping by MD Shahidul Alam and perhaps some poor finishing kept the final scoreline to a relatively respectable 5-0. In reality it could well have been up to 9-0 had the Asian champions converted more of the numerous chances created.
Particularly pleasing was the return and form of Tom Rogic along with impressive performances by the likes of Aaron Mooy and Mark Milligan who took the captain's armband.
As for the active support? Well it still has a way to go. A big challenge is to overcome fracturing of participation so that the home end really is unified in effort and purpose, so not for example separate chants by SAS and the Perth Glory Shed.
However, there were still many positives including the visuals and tifo, so credit must go to the likes of Perth’s Blayne Treadgold and Sydney’s Lee Hinton is this regard. There will be another opportunity in November's home game (likely to be in Canberra) for the SAS to galvanise the home end.
It was also great to see a return to mutual recognition in close proximity to each other of the active support and Socceroos' players just after full time. This reinforces the bond between the two most important elements of our national teams’ football.
After the game, it was straight to Perth airport for my overnight flight to Bangkok. Attention already had switched to the next big challenge and travel adventure.
Even though there were many lopsided 'blow out' scorelines in these last two match days across Asia, participation in such a competitive qualification stage is essential for the current 'minnows' to lift their own standards.
Also, there is always the opportunity for surprise results against most predictions. For example, Jordan being held at home to a goalless draw by Kyrgyzstan has now thrown a possible second place finishing spot wide open in the same group behind Australia.
Ange Postecoglou and his squad will take nothing for granted when they arrive in Dushanbe today (Saturday).
Like our small and yet passionate group of travelling fans, we will assume nothing until victory is secured on Tuesday evening. Our unconditional support will do its best as the 12th man to help lift the Socceroos for another important step towards Russia 2018 finals.
In the meantime stay tuned for more narrative sharing our experiences on the Silk Road of football.
socceroos, world cup qualifier, tajikistan